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Archive for September, 2010

Columbus Day is rapidly approaching. I know that, because two of my sisters were born on Columbus Day. And one nephew too. One of my sisters, whose birthday is rapidly approaching, got me a present for my birthday (which is in April) and even if she didn’t mail me my present yet, she got me one and so I feel like I should get her one too, a really good one, and put it on my refrigerator until she mails mine. That way there would be matching un-mailed presents on the tops of two fridges at the kitty corner’s of our great North American continent. None of that is what I wanted to talk about though. I wanted to talk about the earth’s shape and orbital status within the Solar System.

Now, while some people are still on the fence about it, most people believe that the earth is a sphere. Some of these people have actually known that the Earth was a sphere a waaaaaayyyy long time ago, waaaaaaayyyyy before Christopher Columbus sailed that ocean blue and didn’t fall off. Some people say that Aristotle (350 BCE) was the first to observe that the Earth was round when he saw that it cast a circular shadow during a lunar eclipse. Pythagoras supposedly wrote about the round Earth 15o years prior to Aristotle. According to my sources, it’s very likely that Columbus already knew that the world was round before he even sailed. It’s a wonder that he gets all that credit and my sister’s birthday named after him.

So here’s the story on geo v. heliocentrism. Ptolemy, who was born around 90 AD, wrote a series of volumes collectively entitled The Almgest which means “the Great Treatise.” This massive work was a collection of everything anyone had published about astronomy up to that date, plus a few extra of Ptolemy’s own gleanings. Ptolemy was a very influential fellow and his book provided the foundations for the next few centuries of astronomers. But, Ptolemy made a few tiny errors in his book…

Aristarchus of Samos, born around 310 BC, believed that the sun was at the center of our solar system.

Aristarchus has brought out a book consisting of certain hypotheses, wherein it appears, as a consequence of the assumptions made, that the universe is many times greater than the ‘universe’ just mentioned. His hypotheses are that the fixed stars and the Sun remain unmoved, that the Earth revolves about the Sun on the circumference of a circle, the Sun lying in the middle of the Floor. (Archimedes in The Sand Reckoner)

Ptolemy didn’t believe Aristarchus. He put the geocentric model into his Almgest, and because it was such a good read, and because certain special priests enjoyed the prestige of being “chosen” as God’s very favorites, and because the Earth doesn’t feel like it’s moving, the idea stuck for a while…and scientists of the day mulled over whether Aristarchus should be punished for publishing such pernicious ideas…until Copernicus entered the scene a few centuries later.

Copernicus was a very smart fellow who had a funny haircut for at least one day of his life (see attached painting), who happened to believe that Aristarchus was right. Copernicus had the smarts enough to wait until he was on his death bed to publish his book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), which was the first argument for a heliocentric model in hundreds of years.(Giordano Bruno, an Italian scientist, was burned at the stake in 1600 for promoting a heliocentric model.) It’s said that Copernicus awoke one evening and was shown a copy of the newly printed book at which point he closed his eyes once more and died peacefully.

On the sweet note of this portrait of Copernicus from 1580, I’ll leave you pondering the outcome of orbital hierarchies. Stay tuned to discover which famous stargazer broke open the geohelio conflict, which one glued on his own nose each morning, and which one calculated the accepted birth date of Christ based on an a rare astrological conjunction…

ps. In lieu of celebrating Columbus Day, you can just send my sisters a present, if you want to.

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(photo taken by urban explorer “S-b” of an abandoned hospital in Berlin)

I’m reading a new book called Access All Areas by a fellow who goes by the moniker Ninjalicious (upon inquiring about the availability of this book at the local bookstore, the man behind the desk rolled his eyes, sighed and said “he stole my name!” Clever, clever bookstore man). Anyway, this book is all about sneaking into places (abandoned buildings, rooftops, sewer pipes, tunnels, boiler rooms, etc) and looking around in them.

Upon further research, I’ve discovered that this activity, deemed “urban exploration,” is a very old hobby with quite some following. There is even an urban explorers resource page online, replete with info threads, forums, tips, and the promise of a “full membership” (and all it’s benefits–like locations to explore!) dangling like a carrot on an urban thread for all the would be explorers in the world.

Anyway, the book is great. On the back cover it says “Discover a hidden world in your own city!” This appeals to me immediately. What better way for the neo-Buddhist to wake up to the world that’s around her? Already upon reading the book for a few days I’ve found secret sewer drains, explored a dark two-by-four laden urban cave with drippy spouts and pvc pipes, stuck my head and a flashlight into a hole before noticing an asbestos warning sign, snuck into a deserted (empty) house, and discovered an abandoned alleyway up the street. Woo hoo!

I also found myself checking out the motion sensors at the library to see what kind they are (there’s a chapter on that in the book), looking at random buildings to see if I might be able to climb them, and–gasp!–looking in the dumpster behind the market up the road. Thich Nhat Hanh would be proud of my mindfulness, I’m sure.

So often we walk through the world oblivious to the mysteries that surround us. We allow ourselves to become numbed by the manic quickening of our emotional and physical worlds. Some people might not be excited at the thought of prying up a forty pound pothole lid to see what’s underneath it, but I am. There is something truly magical about  looking at something that has been mostly forgotten by the hustlers and bustlers around me.

My world is expanding day by day, but somehow I can see it ever so much more clearly…

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(Inago no Tukudani: Locust with sweet soy sauce savor)

Aside from in the United States, Canada and Europe, most cultures eat insects for their taste, nutritional value and availability. (from HowStuffWorks.com)

It’s called entomophagy, literal translation from Greek entomos, insect and phagein, to eat…and it happens all the time.

All you picky Canadians, Europeans and United Statesians who think you’re too evolved for such tomfoolery as bug eating, consider this report from the Food and Drug Administration. It is a handbook that guides compliant food processors and packagers on how much mold, rodent filth, mammalian excrement and…yes…bugs are allowable per unit of weight or count before action must be taken. An interesting read. Did you know that canned citrus juicers are allowed five Drosophila (fly) eggs or one maggot per 250 ml (one cup)? Peanut butter makers are allowed 30 insect fragments per 100 g (8 tablespoons). Golden raisin driers get to leave 30 Drosophila eggs and 10 whole or equivalent insects per 8 oz. (one cup). That, friends, is a lot of entomophagy, even if you didn’t know you did it.

But, before you get all grossed out scurry off to brush your teeth, let me inform you a bit about why other cultures find bugs to be an acceptable choice for dining. Here it is in one sentence: Bugs are cheap, plentiful and nutritious.

In ancient times Algerians collected locusts and boiled them in salt water. The Aborigines ate moth bodies, honey pot ants and witchety grubs (moth larvae that supposedly taste like almonds). John the Baptist himself survived the grueling desert by eating locusts. (found this info here)

Nowadays entomophagy is still abuzz with energy. Here’s a little quote from an entomology blog from University of Kentucky:

As a potential food source, though, insects have a lot to offer. They breed/grow quickly. And as long as they don’t have dangerous spines, stingers, or chemicals, they can be nutritious. In fact, edible insects have the potential to be a food-source in hunger-stricken regions of the world. Unfortunately, there has not been much scientific research on the subject of entomophagy.

Currently, a group of international scientists are working together to learn more about entomophagy and its possible role in the fight against world hunger. This month, there is a conference on the subject in Lineville, Alabama. In addition to several talks, there will be a bugfood tasting!  And at the upcoming 2010 ESA (Entomological Society of America) National Meeting, a symposia on entomophagy is being organized.

(By the way, Blake Newton, author of the above blog article, said that eating a cockroach can be dangerous because their chitinous exoskeletons are rather sharp if not chewed properly. Ouch!)

So what kind of bugs are people from other places eating on purpose? Here’s a short list found at this lovely site by Sophie Rousmaniere (take a look at her great pictures too):

Crickets and beetles are on snack bars and ants and ant larvae are used in soups and salads in Thailand, Bamboo worms (roasted or deep fried), silk worm pupae (roasted or steamed), red ant eggs (“nice on warm toast”), mole crickets (high in iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorus), regular crickets (grilled with chili sauce), water beetles (“a bit salty, and high in vitamins… higher levels of protein, vitamin B2 and niacin than most other bugs”), and to top it off, fried scorpions (actually an arachnid, not an insect, but I think it still counts).

The HowStuffWorks article (mentioned above) on entomophagy takes a moment to address the Western bug-ick factor:

The fact that most Americans and Europeans might find eating arthropods gross is due to cultural bias and history. Once farming and raising animals for consumption became the norm, insects became the enemy. After all these years of trying to get rid of insects, it’s hard to turn around and consider them food. There’s also a bit of hypocrisy going on here. Lobsters and crabs are both arachnids, but they’re prized as expensive seafood instead of an odd delicacy like their spider cousins. Most insects are much cleaner than lobsters and crabs too. Their diet of clean grass sets them apart from these oceanic vacuum cleaners that eat whatever refuse they can scavenge from the ocean’s floor.

I hope I’ve given you enough positive information that you might begin to break down your own cultural taboos against entomophagy (if you have these taboos that is). I know that before doing this research, I wouldn’t have eaten a bug. But now that I know I secretly eat them all the time AND that other people overtly eat them all the time AND that perhaps bug eating might answer the age old problem of world hunger, somehow it’s better now.

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(photo by Chris Jordan found at http://www.treehugger.com)

What follows will reveal a few things that are going on inside my body (and possibly yours as well). If you are squeamish about innerbody goings on, then perhaps this isn’t the posting for you…

I just had an appointment with my naturopath and found out that I am estrogen dominant. While this may seem shocking to you, it apparently happens a lot in today’s modern bodies, men and women alike. During our conversation, my naturopath tossed out the word xenobiotic and I was immediately intrigued. What a great word! But what does it mean?

Xeno: comes from the Greek word xenos which mean strange or foreign. Therefore, xenobiotic means strange or foreign life. Sounds very sci-fi at first. However, the word strange in this case does not mean weird or unusually shaped, it means from somewhere else (as in xenophobia=fear of people from other countries).

What does that have to do with my estrogen dominance? Here is the definition of xenobiotics from Wikipedia:

xenobiotic is a chemical which is found in an organism but which is not normally produced or expected to be present in it. It can also cover substances which are present in much higher concentrations than are usual.

In other words, I have estrogen where it doesn’t belong, namely, in my follicular phase. That isn’t as gross as it sounds, it simply means day 1-14 of my bodily cycle. Come on now, don’t be bashful, we’ve all got one…just take a deep breath and keep reading.

I asked the doctor how the extra estrogen got there. Apparently there are a lot of ways that hormones can get wonky, most of them having to do with toxic chemicals, diet and stress. Her advice to me (along with a small arsenal of herbs and homeopathic remedies) was to cut back on red meat and dairy (which are hormoney), don’t eat or drink out of plastic containers, eat more plain vegetables and soups, stop drinking coffee, and try to relax more during my follicular phase (day 1-14).

I did some research when I got home on the plastics. Apparently some plastics leach estrogen mimicking hormones into our bodies when we’re not looking. Unfortunately these plastics are what most companies use to package foods and drinks and are also used to line canned food products. Every time I crank open a can of pintos, I get a nice dose of Bisphenol-A, an estrogen mimicking component of poly-carbonate plastic, which has 2000-5000 times the potency of natural estrogen. Geez, no wonder I’m estrogen dominant. (If you live in Eugene, check out this blog post from Sundance Natural Grocery. They have made the decision to excise all BPA’s from their shelves.)

Wildlife toxicologist Dr. Micheal Frye says that the chemicals that mess with our hormones (“endocrine interfering” chemicals) are all around us. In this interview, he says that in 1996 the Environmental Protection Agency was charged with testing 80,000 chemicals for “sub lethal effects” (sub lethal meaning they won’t kill you immediately, it might take a few decades). The EPA just began it’s testing process this year. Diseases that can be caused by hormone imbalances include diabetes, eating disorders, osteoporosis, hypertension, cholesterol disorders, infertility, thyroid disease, obesity, and cancer.

So what am I going to do with my estrogen dominance? During my follicular phase I’m going to cut back on red meat and eat more veggies, and try really hard to not eat out of plastic containers or cans, and stop drinking coffee every day, and take my herbs and homeopathics, and I’m going to continue to try and relax better. And I’m not going to be neurotic about it. Hopefully.

By the way, Dr. Frye says that plastics numbered 3,6 and 7 are toxic and should be avoided. Plastics numbered 2,4 and 5 are non-toxic…

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(Aster Blooms photographed by André Karwath aka Aka)

I’ve been seeing this pretty little flower all around town of late. How could I have missed this all summer long? I asked my 11-year-old what kind of flower it was because she has a memory like a steel trap when it comes to flowers. She told me that it was a Michaelmas Daisy. Ah! I didn’t miss it after all! It only blooms in the fall, during the time of St. Michael, chief general of the divine army.

According to this lovely site, archangel Michael is given four duties:to fight against Satan, to swoop in at the hour of death and rescue the souls of the innocent from evil forces, to be the champion and patron of God’s people, and to weigh human’s souls in order to bring them to justice. Muslims revere Michael (as well as the Christian and Jewish faiths).

In Muslim lore [Michael] is described with four wings that are emerald green and hair of saffron. Each strand of hair has a million faces with a million mouths and tongues that speak in a million dialects. They believe that Mikha’il uses all of his mouths to plead with Allah to forgive the sins of humankind. (quoted from here)

Michael is the end of the road…the buck stops with him, so to speak. I suppose that is why he honored in the fall, the beginning of the end of the cycle. This was the time in medieval history (the period of origin for the Michaelmas feast, which falls on September 29th) when the bills were due, workmen were hired for the the year, accounts were settled and the harvests pulled in and distributed. And, as it so happens, the time when the Michaelmas Daisy blooms…

At first this flower appears to be a simple blue/purple flower, almost easily overlooked as a decorative weed. However, upon further meditation and research, this lovely flower shows another face. The Michaelmas Daisy  is a member of the Aster family. It is named after the goddess Astraea, who was forced to leave the earth as humanity degenerated into violence and war. A great flood washed over the earth, cleansing away the evil. After the flood, saddened Astraea’s tears fell from Libra and Virgo as stardust. Where they landed grew Michaelmas Daisies. (Incidentally, the word aster means star, sharing roots with asterisk, asteroid and disaster…)

The Michaelmas Daisy has a long history of mystical, magical and medicinal uses.

The Chippewa Indians used Michaelmas daisy in hunting magic, smoking the dried roots as a way to attract game (consider using it for other sorts of hunting, for instance, seeking a lover or finding an object). The Iroquois employed this starwort as hunting medicine and in love charms, which shows its rulership by Venus (it has been used to treat skin problems, a Venus trait for medicinal herbs). The Meskwaki and Potowatami made a smudge with it to awaken unconscious people, which points to possible modern-day magical uses in other types of awakenings, as in initiation or awakening one’s Third Eye.

Michaelmas also marked the beginning of hunting season in Ireland, which ties it to the use of Michaelmas daisy as a hunting charm in North America. And of course, since it is associated with the Archangel Michael, it can be helpful for angel magic. (qtd. from here)

According to Scott Cunningham (Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs) that Aster is ruled by the planet/goddess Venus and, as such, makes a great love potion. More cool facts:

The aster was sacred to the gods and so wreaths of asters were placed on their altars. Aster leaves were burned to keep away evil spirits and drive away serpents in ancient Greece. The bite from a mad dog was cured by an ointment made from asters. Pliny the Elder recommended a tea of aster in cases of snake bite and an aster amulet to ease the pain of sciatica – and Virgil wrote that the flavour of honey would be improved if asters were boiled in wine and placed near a beehive. The aster is considered a herb of Venus and like the daisy, which belongs to the same family of Compositæ, it has been used in love divinations. (qtd. from here)

So take a peek around you when you go for a walk in the next few weeks…perhaps you’ll spot a patch of Astraea’s tears. For me, the Aster is a great reminder that every little plant has it’s history and mystery.

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A few years ago I attended an animal totem workshop. We did all sorts of activities and meditations including whistling bird calls, walking around imaginary labyrinths, and re-enacting a predator/prey hunt. It was all in good fun. In the end of the thing, I had learned that my animal totems were as follows: a bat, a turtle, a bear and a…vulture.

A vulture? I thought to myself, how disgusting is that? Then I went home and read about them. As it turns out, vultures are now my top favorite animal…bats are second place. And today just happens to be vulture awareness day! So in honor of the regally hamburger-meat-headed avian, I will now speak on why I love vultures.

1. They are mysterious. Vultures hang around dead things and dead things are intriguing. Anyone who likes to hang around dead things is neat, according to me. Also, dead things hang around eerie places like dark forests or lonely roadsides. That means that vultures hang around these places too and make the places even more eerie and enigmatic.

2. Vultures not only hang around dead things, they eat dead things. As a writer, I love metaphor, and as a metaphor this is the greatest thing ever. Vultures transform death into newness. It’s like the phoenix, only it actually exists.

3. They look crazy. I read on Wikipedia that the vulture’s head is bald so that it can keep clean, something that is very important when one is a bloody carrion eater. (Imagine sticking your head into a hole full of rotten meat with no showers in sight. You’d want to have a shaved head too.) They are also huge, which I find reassuring. Vultures are huge birds that roam the earth eating evil and keeping clean.

4. A group of vultures is called a wake. I think vultures are necromancers. Seriously. I think they are.

5. My friend just informed me that the latin name for a turkey vulture is Cathartes aura. My friend thought this translated into “immaculate flight” because the vulture doesn’t appear to need to work at flying, they simply ride the currents. I read that Cathartes aura also could mean golden purifier or purifying breeze. The Pueblo Indians believed that if you wear a vulture feather it will remove evil influences (found this info here). Any way you read it, it’s sure a neat name…

6. Vultures don’t kill things, they find things that are already dead or almost dead (they have excellent sight and smell abilities) and then they eat them.

So then, a good way to enjoy Vulture Awareness Day is to take a moment and meditate upon the fact that vultures eat away the death and rot in the world, taking it into themselves and transforming it into new life. They are sacred mystical beings, despite the fact that they present themselves as profane refuse collectors. Take a moment to thank a vulture…

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Last week I found that I had a pure white eyebrow hair. Furthermore, this week was my first back to work after two months off. I’m listening to the Wailin’ Jennys. There’s nothing like a high, reedy voice with a mandolin, white eyebrow hair, and the last quiet whispers of summer to get a girl thinking about death.

Now as a metaphysician, I know that endings are a human construct. (As a kid I always loved to think about what was on the other side of the wall at the end of space. It couldn’t be more space, right? Because space was already ended! So what is it?) However, as a flesh and blood lady, I can tell you that I definitely experience endings, even knowing that they are illusionary.

I just returned from a trip to Guatemala. While I was there I went on a hike at Lago de Atitlan and, within the same span of a few hours, I saw a real live translucent butterfly, a creek bed strewn with plastic bottles and potato chip bags, a serene meditation center surrounded by immaculately tended gardens, and a machismo man in a truck running over a small black and white dog. Ends and beginnings, layer on layer.

In Brahma Kumaris meditation class we learned about the yugas–the four ages of humanity. We start with the Satya yuga–the Golden Age–which was a time of great contentment and happiness. These are then followed by the Dvapara Yuga (Silver Age), the Treta Yuga (Copper Age), and finally the Kali Yuga (Iron Age). These ages pass just like the seasons. In fact, each age shares certain attributes with a corresponding season: Golden/summer=plentiful food, restful; Silver/fall= harvest, turning inward, sweaters, campfires; Copper/winter=cold, gray, melancholy; and Iron/spring=chaotic, extremes…and the promise of a new beginning. At the end of the Kali Yuga is the Confluence, the time when the sun returns and brings back the bliss of the Golden Age.

It’s all a cycle. It will all come back around again…and next time will be even better, because we will be bringing new tools and new understandings that we hadn’t reached yet this go round. Bring on the white eyebrow hairs…

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